Experiencing a destination like a local, isn’t that what we all aim for when we travel to somewhere new? There’s something about scratching beneath the surface of a city and discovering the best places to eat, drink and explore. The kinds of places that almost never appear in guidebooks, that feel like you’ve experienced the destination in a unique way.
I’ve been lucky enough to be both a tourist and a local in the spectacular Canadian city of Vancouver. Most people who have visited this West-Coast destination will rave about it, but the people who are the city’s strongest advocates are its locals. Residents of Vancouver have figured out how to turn day-to-day living into a constant adventure; their city is their playground, and they don’t ever forget it.
So if you ever find yourself in Vancouver, and I strongly recommend that you do, make sure you skip some of the more touristy attractions and take a leaf out of the locals’ books instead. Here’s how:
Where to eat
When it comes to good food, Vancouver’s overflowing with delicious options. Fuel up for your day of exploring with brunch at one of the cafes around English Bay, which is the city’s urban beach, or check out Grounds for Coffee in Kitsilano where you’ll find the best cinnamon bun you’ll ever taste. For lunch, head to popular Granville Island, a huge covered food market where you can buy brightly coloured fruit and vegetables, fresh meat and fish or tempting sweet treats. If you’d rather something that’s already been prepared, queue up for a Japadog, once a single street food cart with a celebrity clientele, now a franchise that’s spread all the way to California. Enjoy your hot dog with teriyaki mayonnaise and seaweed strips – a strange combination, yes – but one that you’ll crave for years afterwards (just trust me).
For dinner, make your way to East Van’s Commercial Drive (known to locals as ‘The Drive’). Here you’ll find a stretch of boutique shops as well as independent cafes and restaurants, all of them serving mouthwateringly good value meals. If you’re looking for a truly Canadian dish, dine at the not-so-Canadian named Belgian Fries, where you’ll have trouble choosing from their extensive poutine menu. Wash down your cheese curds, chips and gravy with a Granville Island beer and you’re well on your way to becoming a Vancouverite.
Where to drink
There’s no shortage of good coffee in the city, so you won’t have to travel far to get a caffeine fix. On Davie Street in trendy Yaletown, don’t miss the small Coo Coo Coffee, serving yummy lattes and sandwiches on a terrace that’s perfect for people-watching. Georgia Street’s Matchstick coffee would be right at home in London’s hipster Shoreditch area, with white subway tiles lining the wall behind a big green espresso machine. The artisan drinks are made with care, the decor is trendy and the muffins aren’t bad either. If you’re on the run and looking for a trusty coffee shop chain that’s not Starbucks, pop into one of the city’s many Caffe Artigiano locations for a local caffeine hit.
If you’re after a drink that’s a little stronger, you’re in luck. Gastown may be filled with tourists snapping photos of the Steam clock during the day, but at night it comes alive with locals looking for a bit of after work fun. Alibi room calls itself a modern tavern, which basically just means they serve craft beer, interesting cocktails and unusual wines. Nearby is Chill Winston, where you may spot a celebrity if you’re lucky, but if not you’ll still get to sip from a huge selection of tasty drinks. Embrace your more sophisticated side in Yaletown at OPUS Bar, or soak up the atmosphere on the patio lounge at Glowbal Grill. If you’d rather go for something a little more grungy, choose from an impressive selection of imported and local craft beers at Biercraft Tap & Tapas Bar on Commercial Drive and end your night with the locals.
What to see
Grouse Mountain may be a magnet for tourists, but locals love it too. What’s not to love? It’s from the top of the mountain that you’ll find the best views of the city, but if you want to do as the locals do, don’t catch the cable car to the top. Start at the bottom and finish the challenging climb up the trail known as the Grouse Grind (you’ll also hear people call it Nature’s Stairmaster). It’s a tough climb, but to be considered a real Vancouverite, it’s got to be conquered.
The locals here are an active bunch, with yoga, cycling and jogging regularly sneaking into their schedules. Running along the Seawall that circles the famous Stanley Park is also an activity loved by residents and tourists alike, and on weekends you’ll find city dwellers hiking some of the city’s surrounding mountains, like The Chief. After a day spent being as active as the locals, it’s time to finish where you began, at English Bay. On a sunny day Vancouverites will flock to this beach to savour ice cream, relax on one of the tree trunks that act as benches and watch the sun setting in spectacular style over the stunning city of Vancouver.